The Burkean Theme in the Late Jefferson’s Political Writings (1809-1826)



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My dissertation focuses on the political thought of the late Jefferson (1809-1826). I find that Jefferson’s thought, surprisingly, was not that different from Edmund Burke’s post French Revolution writings. This finding is quite counterintuitive and also opposed to existed mainstream scholarship, which assumes Burke and Jefferson both viewed each other as degraded madman in the aftermath of French Revolution. That is, scholars believe that Burke thought that Jefferson fell from a whig to a radical Jacobin and that Jefferson saw Burke as a fallen whig who became reactionary Tory. My studies show that, in reality, they were both still whigs, and the theoretical difference between them is more nominal rather than substantial. The late Jefferson displayed a significant shift, from the early 1790s revolutionary fervor to a more cautious and more calm status. What he had in mind is basically a republican polity ultimately controlled by the people but routinely exercised by the natural aristocracy and reliable political representatives. The robust popular control is theoretically compatible with a more or less “trustee” model of sound political representation. By understanding this, scholars of the early republic can better understand the entire Jeffersonian/Republican political agenda in 1810s-1820s. Likewise, the dissertation sheds light on the enduring and timely problem of aristocracy, especially whether it is natural or artificial.



Edmund Burke, Thomas Jefferson, Rightful Liberty, Natural Aristocracy, Ignoble Oligarchy, Whig theory, American Political Thought